The programme is led by 72-year old Sister Joyce Ncala, a retired rheumatology nurse. She runs a number of support groups in Soweto for women who suffer from various types of arthritis.
‘I worked at Baragwanath Hospital for 26 years. And the last six years at Bara, I was working at an Arthritis unit. So, when I retired in 1999, I thought I should give back to the community. That’s why I have support groups in my community, Soweto’, says Sister Joyce Ncala.
Sister Joyce uses her support groups to teach sufferers about the condition of arthritis and about the necessary lifestyle changes they have to make in order to cope with the condition.
‘The main thing is education because if you’ve got a condition that you suffer from, you as a sufferer must know what to do and what not to do so that you may cope with the condition. There are patients who come here who don’t even know the type of arthritis they are suffering from. But with the education, the exercises and with the support that they get from other members, they feel they belong’, says Sister Joyce Ncala.
She says there are three important things that people with arthritis should know.
‘Number one, they need to know which type of arthritis because there are plus – minus 200 types. Number two, they must be knowledgeable about the type of arthritis they suffer from. Number three, they must know how to care for their joints and know when to report when they have a problem’, she says.
Sister Joyce says what she enjoys most about her work is helping elderly women stretch their bodies through exercise movements. In addition to treatment, exercise can relieve the stress in the joints.
‘The exercises that we do are to strengthen the joints, you know… to make the joints strong. We don’t do aerobics, as such. We just do exercises to strengthen and move the joint’, says Sister Joyce Ncala.
Fifty-one year-old Matilda Nkosi from Pimville, in Soweto, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She says Sister Joyce’s classes have helped her regain her health.
‘It’s not just the pills that have helped me. It’s also exercises to strengthen muscles and the support group. I think speaking and sharing ideas with people who suffer from the same condition as you, helps a lot’, says Matilda Nkosi.
Eighty-nine year-old Virginia Nothemba Mazwi, from Mofolo Village, had nothing but praise for Sister Joyce’s classes.
‘I’ve had arthritis for a long time, but in hospitals they never explain properly what it is and what other things you can do to fight it, besides taking medication. Sister Joyce has taught me about exercising and eating healthy to help improve my overall health’, says Virginia Nothemba Mazwi.
Fifty-eight year-old Zodwa Dorothy Mkhize, from Mofolo North, also shared her experience.
‘Part of what makes the support group great is that we support each other emotionally, too. Some people will come in with problems from their homes, but we will talk and have fun while we’re doing our stretches and, by the end of the day, they will leave feeling better’ , Zodwa Dorothy Mkhize says.
They may have passed their prime and had their lives disrupted by arthritis, but these elderly women are not letting the disease get them down. With the support of one another they manage to go on.
‘It’s important that when you have a condition that is said to be chronic that you join a support group because knowledge is power! I empower them so that they may cope with the condition’, concludes Sister Joyce Ncala.